Scoring a Perfect 10 for Your Plot Structure

Teaching writers how to establish a plot is tough. It’s not an easy thing to think of writing in 3 acts but that’s what you have to do. Often I will hear a writer tell me “but I just want to write a story”.

There is certainly great honor in writing what you want, what you feel deep down in your heart and while you may be emotionally fulfilled after completing such a project, I’m willing to bet that your pocketbook is not one of the things that got filled. People want a good story and there is a time honored way of giving it to them.

Let’s face it, to be marketable, you need to write for your market. If you want to deliberately ignore the format, by all means go ahead, just don’t expect your market to follow you or more importantly to compensate you for your work.

You’ve heard it before, but here it is again. A marketable plot has the following components:

  • The beginning
  • First stumble
  • A journey to truth/success
  • Second stumble
  • Continuation of journey
  • Third stumble (from which it looks like all is lost)
  • Miraculous recovery, all is well.
  • The end.

One way to fully understand and embrace this concept is to sit notebook in hand in front of the Television turned on to any episode of the medical drama “House”.

  • The introduction is set – a disease or condition is presented
  • The first stumble is introduced – something doesn’t seem right, an expected pattern is not being followed
  • Commercial Break
  • The investigation is continued, perhaps the solution is this? (it certainly looks like it).
  • Wait, it seems the investigators may be wrong, there’s a new symptom – could it be Lupus?
  • Commercial Break
  • The investigation continues, a new diagnosis is considered
  • WAIT!!! The patient is getting worse, is it possible they might die before the Dr.s figure out what is wrong?
  • Commercial Break
  • Nope – House has a just-in-time epiphany
  • Patient is saved, we all have a good chuckle at how close they came to losing this one (and how it really wasn’t Lupus after all).
  • Fade to black.

Does following a format make your story stilted and predictable? Well that all depends on how proficient of a writer you are.

Two gymnasts can perform the exact same move but the one who has put the hours of practice in, has studied the skills of others, has the supreme confidence, and who is able to put personal style into a required move is the one who will be awarded the perfect score.

About the Author:

A  features writer, interviewer, and columnist, Wendy Thomas has been published in national magazines, newspapers, e-zines, and blogs.

Wendy discusses marketing writing at Savvy B2B Marketing.

Her current project is to blog about life living with 6 kids and a flock of chickens.

5 thoughts on “Scoring a Perfect 10 for Your Plot Structure

  1. Wendy – Great advice & I love you you tied it to “House.” (I adore Hugh Laurie … even without his delicious British accent.)

    I am in the process of gearing up to outline what I hope will become a series of young adult novels and your advice (in conjunction with my mountain climbing adventure last week) are excellent reminders of the basics of story construction. It can seem formulaic, but it IS what people want … and you can get all kinds of creative with how you present the details of your story.

    There are several well-known books on story and the hero’s journey. One in particular I can’t recall, but in searching for it I came across this one which sounds fascinating: The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Joseph Campbell)

    I also have a copy of Bill Johnson’s A Story is a Promise ( which I think gives a very clear and actionable explanation of how to construct not only the story arc, but individual scenes. Focuses on screenplays, but totally applicable to novels as well.

    Do you recommend any particular books on this topic?

    Tks for the inspiration!

  2. Jamie,

    These days I’m reading a lot of Larry Brooks posts over at . He writes amazing posts where he deconstructs stories (read the Shutter Island series).

    There are many books on plot structure but for me, I need to see it in action to be able to fully understand it. This is what Larry does do well.


  3. Thanks for the great tip. I’m not sure I can read about Shutter Island (just the movie previews gave me nightmares!), but I subscribed to the blog and look forward to learning, learnng, learning.

  4. Pingback: Time to Write – a Lament and 9 Tips « Live to Write – Write to Live

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